Friday, March 28, 2008

Perseverance

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. … Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” James 1:2-4, 12
I read James 1 last night. It said so much to me that I never got past that chapter. I’m hoping I can remember all the thoughts that came to me while I was reading and re-reading. This progression stood out to me:

Trials-->Perseverance-->Maturity/Completeness-->Crown of Life.

We need the trials. Without them we won’t learn to persevere and without perseverance we won’t mature.

What does perseverance look like? And how do trials produce it? Maybe we need to start by thinking about what trials are. The whole of verses 2-18 seems to be on this topic. I find it interesting that right after James says how we are blessed if we persevere under trial, he begins to talk about temptations:

“When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone: but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”

So here we have another progression:

Temptations-->Desire-->Sin-->Death

It seems to me that James is equating trials to temptations. If you give in, it will lead to death. If you don’t give in, it will lead to life.

Trials and temptations come to us in many forms with some seeming to be more significant than others. No one would disagree that when a Christian in a hostile country is faced with the decision to renounce Christ or die that that is huge. The temptation, of course, is to choose life. I believe, however, that each decision we make in temptation/trials is significant. Each decision we make leads towards either life or death, whether it is how we respond to someone’s anger, pain or need or whether it is a blatant choice between God and something else (life, reputation, money, etc.).

So what is perseverance? It is continually making the choice that leads to life—in the big things and the small, in the significant and the insignificant. It often means making hard choices. It means making those choices over and over and over again despite how weary we are of having to do so. It means choosing God as my comforter instead of food, drink, fantasies, sleep, illicit sex or giving up in hopelessness. It means forgiving the same offense from the same person multiple times a day, year after year and not stopping. It means persistently get up for church every Sunday for a hundred years (if you live that long), reading your Bible daily for all those years, keeping your mind and thoughts continually on God all day despite the circumstances and never giving up. It doesn’t mean we never fall. Rather it means that every time we fall, we get back up and begin again.
Though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again, but the wicked are brought down by calamity. Proverbs 14:16
When we do this in the little things and the big, we develop spiritual maturity and become complete in Christ. THESE are the circumstances under which we will receive the crown of life. Is this earning our salvation? No. It is demonstrating our love for God. Check out verse 12 again. God has promised the crown of life to those who love him—who have stood the test of persevering under trial. This raises the question for me: if I am not persevering in trials/temptations and making right choices as a way of life, how much do I really love God? Maybe not as much as I thought.

God, I want to persevere and not give up. Please help me! Enable me to be like the little child learning to walk who keeps getting up and trying again every time she falls. And if learning perseverance requires trials and temptations, please don’t stop them but instead give me strength and courage to persevere through them.

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